Avoiding common chemicals in your favourite foods

Before you go shopping, do some research on the items you usually buy for information about problem ingredients and healthy alternatives. To help get you started, here are a few examples of problematic common groceries and how you can avoid the potential health risks connected to them.

Avoiding common chemicals in your favourite foods

Buying coffee

  • Choose to drink natural ground coffee, as huge amounts of energy are consumed in the dehydration of instant and decaffeinated varieties.
  • If you like decaffeinated coffee, choose one that has been decaffeinated using the water extraction or carbon dioxide methods. Some methods involve the use of chemical solvents such as methylene chloride, which has been linked to cancer in humans.
  • Coffee is a heavily sprayed crop. Consider buying certified organic brands, or buy locally-grown beans.
  • Look for reusable unbleached cotton filters or disposable unbleached or oxygen-bleached paper filters. Chlorine-based bleaching leaves dioxin residues in the filters and also releases dioxins into the environment. The World Health Organization has identified dioxins as carcinogens.
  • Consider buying a reusable gold mesh filter or change to plunger or espresso coffee-making methods.

Buying tea

Tea crops are often treated with chemicals. Choose teas that are made without pesticides, preferably brands that are certified organic.

  • Buy loose-leaf tea and use a teapot or a stainless steel infuser, or look for unbleached bags made of natural fibres. If possible, buy tea bags without staples so that they are completely biodegradable.
  • If your tea of choice has been grown overseas, it may have been exposed to chemical pesticides and fertilizers. One of these chemicals could be DDT, which has been banned in most parts of the developed world.
  • Herbal teas aren't necessarily a healthy alternative, as the herbs are often grown in soil-free conditions in greenhouses, and doused with chemicals before and after harvest. If you can, choose a certified organic herbal tea.

Buying canned food

  • Opinion is divided over whether the material used to line food cans (an epoxy resin that contains a hormone disruptor called Bisphenol A or BPA) leaches into the canned food in dangerous amounts.
  • Try to avoid canned baby foods, as babies are more susceptible to minute amounts of any chemical. Look for baby food in glass containers instead.
  • Use your canned food sensibly: avoid overlong storage periods and rotate the cans in your pantry so that the oldest items are used first. Never heat food directly in the can.

Buying wine

  • In conventional viticulture, fungicides, insecticides and herbicides are applied to grape vines.
  • After harvesting, winemakers use preservatives (usually sulphur dioxide or sulfites), which can cause allergic reactions.
  • If you are concerned about additives, seek out certified organic wines (which contain a minimum level of preservatives) or wines that are labelled preservative-free. But be aware that the latter may be difficult to cellar for the long term.

These are just a few things to watch for and consider when you're buying coffee, tea, canned foods, and wine. But remember these tips and consider how preservatives and chemicals used in agriculture can affect your health so that you can start making healthier food choices.

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